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In a perfect world, airlines would offer a consistent experience across their fleets. Instead, since many take delivery of new aircraft all the time, offerings tend to be mix and match. Lufthansa is the one major carrier offering an identical business-class seat (for now) on all of its long-haul planes.
The situation seems to be especially uneven here in the US. As with American Airlines, which has an incredibly diverse fleet, not all of United’s seats are created equal. Polaris business class is a huge improvement over the carrier’s older seats, but there are a few hundred aircraft still flying with the old seats, even as a new or refurbished Polaris-equipped plane rolls out every 10 days.
Here’s a rundown on United’s biz-class offerings, ranked from best to worst. And be warned: The worst seats really are awful as far as business class goes. Buckle up — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
1. Polaris (Boeing 777-300ER, 777-200ER, 787-10)
My favorite United seats can be found on all of the carrier’s 18 Boeing 777-300ERs, plus an ever-growing number of retrofitted 777-200ERs and the airline’s latest Dreamliner addition, the extended-length 787-10 (older 787-8s and -9s will be updated soon). They offer substantially more privacy than any of the carrier’s other offerings, and with a 1-2-1 arrangement, there’s an opportunity for passengers traveling together to grab center seats and sleep next to each other. These seats also offer side tables, decent storage, a privacy divider and United’s latest inflight entertainment.
Where to Find Them: The 777-300ER flies on a handful of dedicated routes, including Newark (EWR) to Hong Kong (HKG), Tel Aviv (TLV) and Tokyo (NRT); and San Francisco (SFO) to Auckland (AKL), Beijing (PEK), Frankfurt (FRA), Hong Kong (HKG), London (LHR), Tel Aviv (TLV), Taipei (TPE) and Tokyo (NRT). For the time being, many of the retrofitted 777-200ERs don’t operate on specific routes, though you can most often find them flying from Chicago (ORD), Newark, Washington-DC (IAD) and San Francisco to Asia, Europe and South America.
2. Polaris (767-300ER)
United operates a similar version of its new Polaris seat on the 767-300ER, in two versions: one with a 30-seat Polaris cabin, and a second offering a whopping 46 lie-flat seats, spread among 16 rows. More than half of United’s smaller 767s have been reconfigured. I like this version almost as much as what you’ll find on the 777s, but with a 1-1-1 configuration, there aren’t any paired seats, making this less ideal for families and couples.
Where to Find Them: You’ll most often find this configuration on flights between the East Coast and Europe, such as Newark to London (LHR). You’ll also see them operating some of United’s shorter long-haul flights out of Chicago, Houston (IAH) and Washington, DC.
3. B/E Aerospace Diamond (787-8 and 787-9)
Many of United’s most advanced planes are still flying one of the carrier’s older seats. Both the 787-8 and extended-length 787-9 variant fly a newer version of B/E Aerospace’s Diamond business seat. They’re arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration here, and while they’re far fresher on the Dreamliner, the narrower cabin means trimming about an inch off the seat’s width. Storage is limited to an open side compartment, plus a small storage area underneath the ottoman, which is far wider at bulkhead seats. They’re expected to begin getting Polaris seats soon, though.
Where to Find Them: United’s Dreamliner flights originate at a handful of hubs, including Denver (DEN), Houston, Los Angeles (LAX), Newark, San Francisco and Washington, DC. They’re used primarily for flights to Asia, Europe and Australia, including United’s longest flights between San Francisco and Singapore (SIN), along with daily round-trips between Newark and Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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4. B/E Aerospace Diamond (777-200ER)
While a bit wider than those on the Dreamliners above, at 23 inches this version of B/E Aerospace’s Diamond seat has seen better days, having flown on Continental’s 777s for several years before being migrated to the United fleet. The design itself is very similar to those on the Dreamliner, though some elements, like the seat and entertainment controllers, are quite a bit older on the 777. You’ll only find this seat on the 777-200ERs that formerly flew for Continental and they’re already being phased out as planes are retrofitted with Polaris.
Where to Find Them: This 777 model continues to fly almost exclusively out of the former Continental hubs in Houston and Newark. It’s used on some of United’s longest flights, such as Houston to London and Tokyo, along with routine transatlantic and South America hops, most often from the Houston hub.
5. B/E Aerospace Diamond (767-400ER and 767-300ER)
Measuring 21 inches wide, this version of United’s 767 biz seat is noticeably narrower than the 777 model above. I still find it comfortable, though, and I love having the option of a single middle seat, especially when I’m flying alone. Being in the middle seems to boost the service a bit too, since flight attendants in both aisles deliver food and drinks throughout the flight. However, you can get bumped in the middle, especially on the 767-300ER, where all passengers board through the forward door. Storage can be limited too, unless you’re in a bulkhead row.
Where to Find Them: All of United’s 767-400ERs used to fly for Continental and they’ve offered this seat for quite some time. The airline began installing it on the smaller 767-300ERs as well. You’ll find these 767s operating many of the transatlantic flights out of Newark, along with Newark and Washington, D.C. to Honolulu and a couple of mainland US hops.
6. B/E Aerospace Diamond (757-200)
This seat clearly gets a lot of love from United — or did back in the day. Finally, we have the single-aisle 757-200 version, which is just as narrow as what you’ll find on the 767, at about 21 inches. It definitely feels tighter, too, especially in the footwell and storage underneath. These seats are just as worn as those on the old Continental 777s, and in the case of United’s international-configured 757s, they’ve been flying nearly as long. They still lie completely flat, though, and they’re a decent option when you’re traveling with a companion.
Where to Find Them: You’re all but guaranteed to see them on all of United’s narrow-body Premium transcontinental flights, including Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Boston (BOS) to San Francisco. International routes are limited to shorter transatlantic flights — primarily Newark to destinations in the UK. This seat also makes a frequent appearance on regular domestic flights, such as Newark (EWR) to Seattle (SEA), where it’s sold as first class. Basically, whenever you see a United flight operated by a 757-200, this is what you’ll get — be sure to avoid the longer 757-300, though, since those offer recliners, instead.
7. Original United Lie-Flat Seat (777-200ER and 767-300ER)
United’s oldest 777 business class is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration. Yup, you read that right — there are four seats in the middle. That’s simply unacceptable for business class, though it’s not unusual to see in premium economy. The good news is that unless you’re a non-revenue traveler or you clear a last-minute upgrade, it’s easy enough to avoid those middle-of-the-middle seats, but be prepared for an unpleasant ride if you do get stuck. Regardless of which seat you get, expect nonexistent storage and a tight squeeze. Avoid avoid avoid unless you really, really need four across!
Where to Find Them: Hopefully in a landfill soon. For now, they’re still flying on United’s three-cabin 777s, though the airline is working quickly to replace them with the fancy new Polaris seats. You’ll most often find them flying from Chicago to Asia and Europe, and they’re unfortunately here to stay on United’s domestic-configured 777-200s, primarily flying between Hawaii and the mainland US and Guam.
With the exception of those domestic 777s, and perhaps the 757-200s, United’s entire long-haul fleet should eventually offer a variation of the Polaris seat seen up top. Fortunately, United’s awful 2-4-2 seats are being flushed from the system at a steady pace and should be completely gone from long-haul international flights soon. Meanwhile, the B/E Aerospace seats will continue to serve as a decent stopgap for now, since they’re a fairly comfortable Polaris alternative. Still, there’s no question that you’ll have the best experience when flying the real thing.
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